Britain's first transgender rabbi?


A peace worker who wants to become Britain's first transgender rabbi is to feature in a new prime-time documentary.

Maxwell Zachs, who did not want to give his birth name, was born female but began the physical transition to become a man in 2009.

The 25-year-old features in Channel 4's My Transsexual Summer, a four-part series following seven transgender men and women who share a house as they experience the highs and lows of changing gender.

Viewers will see the group taking hormone injections, receiving verbal abuse on nights out, and struggling with the difficult task of telling their families about their sex changes.

Mr Zachs is shown wearing his kippah around the house; one episode features scenes filmed at North West Reform Synagogue, where he is a member.

I wanted a more Jewish life to help me feel connected

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is interviewed about his role in the community and Jewish attitudes towards gender reassignment.

Mr Zachs, of Tottenham, north London, is the national secretary of the Keshet UK group, which works with Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. He also works for the Quakers.

He said: "When I told my family about my transition they were not very comfortable with it. In the end they decided they would rather have an unhappy daughter than a happy son. That was not a comfortable position for me, and so we parted ways. "

But in recent months Mr Zachs has regained contact with his grandmother, who appears in one episode.

"In my early 20s I was dealing with my gender and also decided that I wanted a more Jewish life. Judaism has been so important for me because I felt connected, when not a lot else made me feel connected. When I first started my transition I did not know whether I would find a community that would welcome me.

"I did a lot of text-based study on my own. I loved that and it formed a big part of my life. I fell in love with how we work as a community to support each other and draw so much from these texts.

"For me it's not really about becoming Britain's first trans rabbi, it's just about doing what I want to do with my life."

Mr Zachs hopes to train as a rabbi after completing a master's degree.

In January last year he travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, for gender reassignment surgery.

"The reason I wanted to do the show was because I think transgender people are invisible, and that includes within the Jewish community as well. I've never had a negative experience within the community – people sometimes have no idea how to include me or help me, but they are always willing to learn, which is great. But as a community we still need to do more to educate about transgender people."

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